Fa¨¦thor - Zek ¨C Perchorsk

In the Möbius Continuum, Harry opened a future-time door and went looking for Fa¨¦thor Ferenczy. Fa¨¦thor was long dead and gone, and had been incorporeal - which is to say bodiless - for a very long time. So long that by now he was probably mindless, too. But there were things of great importance which the Necroscope wanted to ask him. About Harry's 'disease' and how he'd come by it; maybe even about how he could cure it, though that possibility seemed almost as remote as Fa¨¦thor himself.

Möbius time was awesome as ever. Before launching himself down the ever-expanding time-stream, Harry paused, framed in the doorway, and looked out on humanity as few flesh-and-blood men had ever seen it -and then only on his authority. He saw it as blue light -the near-neon blue of all human life - rushing out and away with an interminable sigh, an orchestrated angelic Ahhhhhhhhh, into forever and ever. But the sigh was all in his mind (indeed he knew that it was his mind sighing), for time is quite silent. Which was just as well. For if all the sound in all the years of all the LIFE he witnessed had been present, then it would have been an utterly unbearable cacophony.

He stood or floated in the metaphysical doorway and gazed on all those lines of blue light streaming out and away - the myriad life-lines of the human race - and thought: It's like a blue star gone nova, and these are its atoms fleeing for their lives! And he knew that indeed every dazzling line was a life, which he could trace from birth to death across the tractless heavens of Möbius time: for even now his own life-line unwound out of him, like a thread unwinding from a bobbin, to cross the threshold and shoot away into the future. But where the rest were pure blue, his own thread carried a strong crimson taint.

As for Fa¨¦thor's line: if it existed at all, it would be pure (impure?) scarlet. But it didn't, for Fa¨¦thor's life was over. No life now for that ancient, once-undead thing, but true death, where he sped on and on beyond the bounds of being ... all thanks, or whatever, to Harry Keogh. Bodiless, yes, the old vampire, but still the Necroscope knew how to track him. For in the Möbius Continuum thoughts have weight and, like time itself, go on for ever.

Fa¨¦thor, Harry called out, sending a probe lancing ahead as he launched himself down the time-stream, I'd like to pay you a visit. If you're in the mood for it.

Oh? The answer came back at once, and then, astonishingly, a chuckle; one of Fa¨¦thor's most dark, most devious chuckles. A meeting of two old friends, eh? And is it visiting day? Well, and why not? But truth to tell, I've been expecting you.

You have? Harry caught up with Fa¨¦thor's spirit: with the memory, the mind which was all that remained of him.

Oh, yes! For who else would know the answer if not me, eh?

The answer? But Harry knew well enough what he meant. The answer - the solution - to his problem, assuming such a solution existed.

Come, come! Fa¨¦thor tut-tutted. Am I naive? Call me what you will, Harry, but never that! And now he gave a deadspeak nod and looked the Necroscope over. Well, well! But, you know, you never fail to amaze me? I mean, so many talents! And now this faster-than-life travel! Why, look-you've even outstripped yourself!

Even as Fa¨¦thor spoke, Harry's life-line gave a wriggle, a shudder, and split down the middle. Half of the line bent back a little on itself and shot off at right-angles to the Necroscope's line of travel, shortly to disappear in a brilliant burst of red and blue fire. But the other half, like a comet with Harry himself for its nucleus, sped on as before and kept pace with Fa¨¦thor.

Harry had been expecting some such. The phenomenon he'd just witnessed (which in fact had been his departure point for Starside) was in the probable future. But this was Möbius time, which is to say speculative time, and nothing was for certain. It was the reason why reading the future was so very hit and miss. For if in the real world anything contrary should happen to him between now and then, his departure simply wouldn't happen. Or possibly not. In other words - and despite the fact that he'd seen it - it was only something which might happen.

But probably, said Fa¨¦thor. And again he chuckled. So... they're driving you out, eh? No, Harry shrugged, I'm going of my own free will. Because if you stay they'll hunt you down and destroy you.

Because I will it, Harry repeated. You brought yourself into prominence, said Fa¨¦thor, and they looked at you - closely! Now they know you for what you are. All of these years you've been their hero, and now you're their worst nightmare come true. And so it's back to Starside. Well, good luck to you. But mind you look out for that son of yours. Why, the last time you were there he crippled you!

Before continuing their conversation, Harry very carefully shielded his mind. Only show Fa¨¦thor the tiniest crack in the door and he'd be in. Not only to spy on the Necroscope's most secret thoughts, but to lodge himself in his mind as a permanent tenant. It was the ancient vampire's one chance - his very last chance - for any sort of continuity other than this empty, endless speeding into the future.

And so, when Harry was satisfied that he'd made himself impregnable: Yes, my son crippled me, he agreed. Robbed me of my deadspeak, denied me access to the Möbius Continuum. It was easy for him then, because I was only a man. But now... as you see, I'm Wamphyri!

You go back to do battle with him? Fa¨¦thor hissed. Your own son?

If that's the only way. Harry shrugged again, mainly to disguise his lie. But it doesn't have to be a fight. Starside is a big place. Even bigger, now that the Wamphyri are dead or fled.

Hmmm! Fa¨¦thor mused. So you'll return to Starside, build yourself an aerie there, and if necessary do battle with your son for a piece of his territory. Is that it?

Possibly.

So why have you come to see me? What have I to do with it? If this is your plan, then go to it.

For long moments Harry was silent; finally he answered: But it was my thought that... you might like to come with me?

Fa¨¦thor's gasp - and the ensuing silence - was of stunned disbelief. Until, eventually: That I might like...?

To come with me, Harry said it again.

But: No, said Fa¨¦thor in a while, and Harry sensed the unbodied shake of his head. I can't credit this. It is - can only be - a trick! You who once fought so long and hard to keep me out, now invite me in? To be one with you in your new Wamphyri mind, body and -

Don't say soul! said Harry. Also, you have it wrong.

Eh? Fa¨¦thor was at once on his guard. But how can I have it wrong? To go with you from this... this hellish no-place into Starside is out of the question, unless it is as part of you. Here I am nothing, but if of your own free will you're now inviting my mind into yours...?

Initially, yes, said Harry. But this time you must agree to move out when I desire it. And without a struggle, without that I must use trickery, as last time.

Fa¨¦thor was flabbergasted. Move out to where?

Into the mind and body of some lesser man, some Traveller king or such, in Starside.

And finally Fa¨¦thor understood, or thought he did, and his deadspeak thoughts turned sour as vinegar. And so you are unworthy after all, he said then. And have been from the start. I used to lie in the earth in my place in Ploiesti and think: 'The Necroscope can have it all, everything, the world! Thibor was a ruffian, unworthy, but not so Harry. Janos was the scummy froth of my loins, beside which Harry has the consistency, the purity - or if not that, then at least the homogeneity - of cream. I shall make Harry my third and last son!' Yes, these were my thoughts, of which you were unworthy.

How come? said Harry. I mean, why do you insult me?

What? (astonishment, disbelief). Surely you mean why do I sorrow! But you could have been - could still be - the most powerful creature of all time: The Master Vampire! The Great Plague Bearer! Because I, Fa¨¦thor Ferenczy, willed it, you are Wamphyri! You have admitted as much yourself. And yet now you would throw it all away. Does it mean nothing to you, to be Wamphyri? What of the passion, the power, the glory?

What of me? Harry answered. The real me, before my adulteration?

The new you is greater!

I don't resent the greatness. Harry shook his head. Only that it was not on my terms. But now I'm offering you terms, and no more time to waste. Can you help me ... or can't you?

Cards on the table, then, said Fa¨¦thor. You will take me into your mind, transfer or transport me to Starside - which after all is or should have been my natural place - and there pass me on to some other to guide him as I would have guided you. In return for which, you desire to know if there's a way you may rid yourself of the thing growing within you. Now, do I have it right?

And if there is a way - Harry qualified the deal - you'll describe it in detail, a fool's guide, so that I may be my own man again.

Following which, you'll return to your own world, leaving me, embodied once more, in Starside?

That's the plan.

And if there is no way to free you?

Harry shrugged. A deal is a deal. You'll be a power on Starside anyway, as stated.

Eventually to become your rival? And your son's rival?

Yet again the Necroscope's shrug. Like I said, with the old Wamphyri dead or fled, Starside is a big place.

Fa¨¦thor was cautious. It seems to me that whichever way it goes, still I get the best of this bargain. Now why should you be so good to me?

Maybe it's like you said, Harry told him, a meeting of two old friends.

Fiends, Fa¨¦thor corrected him.

As you will, except I'm an unwilling fiend. And despite the fact that you're the engineer of my current fix, still I can't forget that in the past you've put yourself out to do me one or two favours; even though all of them (a little sourly), as I've since come to realize, were to your ultimate benefit. Still, it seems I've grown accustomed to you; I understand you now; you played the game according to your own rules, that's all. Wamphyri rules. Also, I'm full of human compassion - I can't help it - and I have to admit my conscience has been bothering me. About you, stuck here in Möbius time. About my leaving you here. And finally... well, you said it yourself: if there is a cure for my complaint, who'd know it better than you? Which is the Number One reason I'm here and doesn't leave me with much choice. He was very convincing.

Very well, said Fa¨¦thor (as Harry had supposed he would), you have a deal. Now take me into your mind.

When you have told me what I want to know.

Whether or not you may rid yourself of your vampire?

A little more than that.

Oh?

Where it came from. How it got into me in the first place.

You haven't thought it out for yourself?

It was the toadstools, right?

Fa¨¦thor's deadspeak nod. Yes.

And the toadstools were you?

Yes. They were spawned of my fats festering in the earth where I'd burned and melted down. An ichor, an essence, simmering there, waiting. Then, when the brew was ripe, I willed the fungi up into the light - but not until I knew you'd be there to receive them.

And you were in them?

As you well know, for through them I came to you. But you cast me out.

And these fungi: are they a natural part of the Wamphyri chain? Part of the overall life cycle?

I don't know. Fa¨¦thor seemed at a genuine loss. There was no one to instruct me in such mysteries. Old Belos Pheropzis might have known - might even have passed such knowledge down to my father - but if so, then Waldemar Ferrenzig never told me. I only knew that the spores were in me, in the fats of my body, and that I could will them into growth; but don't ask me how I knew. How does a dog know how to bark?

And the spores were your very last vestiges?

Yes.

Could it be that such toadstools grow in the vampire swamps on Starside? It seems logical to me, since those swamps are the source of Wamphyri infestation.

Fa¨¦thor sighed his impatience. But I've never even seen the vampire swamps on Starside, though I hope to - and soon! Now then, let me into your mind.

Can I be rid of my vampire?

Do we still have a deal, however I may answer?

So long as you answer true.

No, you are stuck with your vampire for ever!

Harry wasn't hard hit; he had supposed it would be so. Even concerning the very question or idea or thought of 'curing' himself, his will was already weakening, probably had been for some time. For he was learning what it was to be Wamphyri. And if his right hand didn't like it, then his left hand did. The dark side of men has always been their stronger side. And what of women? The Lady Karen's cure had been her destruction.

In his mind, like an echo, the Necroscope heard once more Fa¨¦thor's answer: You are stuck with your vampire for ever! And he thought: So be it! And to Fa¨¦thor he said: Then farewell.

He began to decelerate, leaving the astonished vampire to speed on ahead as before. As the gap rapidly widened, Fa¨¦thor despairingly called back, What? But you said-

I lied, Harry cut him off.

What you, a liar? Fa¨¦thor couldn't accept it. But... but that's not like you at all!

No, Harry answered, grimly, but it is like the thing inside me. It is like my vampire. For it's part of you, Fa¨¦thor, it's part of you.

Wait! Fa¨¦thor cried out in his extremity. You can be rid of it... It's true... You really can!

And THAT is the part! said Harry, transferring out of time and back into the Möbius Continuum. 'The lying part.'

And in Möbius time Fa¨¦thor was left to shriek and gibber, but faintly now and fading, like the slithering whispers of winter's crumbling leaves, whirled for ever on the winds of eternity...

Harry went to see Jazz and Zek Simmons on the island of Zakynthos in the Ionian. They had a villa in the trees, overlooking the sea and hidden well away from the holidaymakers, in Porto Zoro on the north-east coast.

It was eight in the evening when he materialized close to the house; he put out a probe and saw that Zek was on her own, but guessed that Jazz wouldn't mind his wife speaking for both of them. First he reached out to her telepathically; and the way she answered him, unafraid, it was as if she'd expected him.

'For a day or two?' she said, after inviting him in, when he'd explained what he was doing. 'But of course she'll be OK here, the poor girl!'

'Not so poor,' he was prompted to answer, almost defensively. 'Because she doesn't really understand it, she won't fight it as hard as I have. And before she knows it, she'll be Wamphyri.'

'But Starside? How will you live there? I mean, do you intend... intend to...?' Zek gave up. She was after all talking to a vampire. She knew that behind those dark lenses his eyes were fire; knew, too, how easily she could be burned by them. But if she feared him it didn't show, and Harry liked her for that. He always had liked her.

'We'll do what we have to do,' he answered. 'My son found ways to survive.'

'The way I see it,' she said, with an almost unnoticeable shudder, 'blood is a powerful addiction.'

The most powerful!' he told her. 'It's why we have to go-'

Zek didn't want to push it, but felt she must: her female curiosity. 'Because you love your fellow man and can't trust yourself?'

He shrugged and offered her a wry smile. 'Because E-Branch can't trust me!' But his half-smile swiftly faded. 'Who knows? Maybe they're right not to.' And after long moments of silence he asked, 'What about Jazz?' She looked at him and lifted an eyebrow, as if to say, do you really need to ask?

'Jazz doesn't forget his friends, Harry. But for you, we were long since dead on Starside. And in this world? But for you, the Ferenczy's son Janos would still be alive and festering. Anyway, Jazz is in Athens seeking dual nationality.'

'When can I bring Penny here?'

That's up to you. Now, if you wish.'

Harry gathered Penny up from her bed in the Nicosia hotel without even waking her, and moments later Zek saw how gently he laid her between cool sheets in the guest bedroom of this, her new, temporary refuge. And she nodded to herself, certain now that if anyone was able to look after this girl - on Starside or anywhere else - then it would be the Necroscope.

'And what now, Harry?' she queried, serving coffee sweetened with Metaxa brandy on her balcony where it jutted over the cliffs and the moonlit sea.

'Now Perchorsk,' he answered simply.

But halfway down his cup, he fell asleep in his chair...

It was a measure of his trust that he felt he could rest here. And it was a measure of Zek Föener's that she didn't go and fetch her speargun and silver harpoon and try to kill him there and then, and Penny after him. She didn't; but even Zek couldn't feel that safe.

Before retiring she called for Wolf (a real wolf, born on Starside), and when he came from the dark, scented cover of the Mediterranean pines, stationed him at her door. And: Wake me if they should move, she told him...

At midnight Harry woke up and went to Perchorsk in the USSR's Ural'skiy Khrebet. Zek watched him go and wished him luck.

In the Urals it was 3:30 in the morning, and in the depths of the Perchorsk Projekt Viktor Luchov was asleep and nightmaring. He always would nightmare, as long as they kept him here. But now, since British E-Branch's warning, the nightmares were that much worse.

'What exactly did that warning consist of?' a vague, shadowy Harry Keogh inquired of him in his dream. 'No, don't tell me - let me take a shot at it, have a go at guessing it. It had to do with me, right?'

Luchov, the Projekt Direktor, didn't know where Harry had come from but suddenly he was there, pacing the disc's bolted metal plates with him in the glare of the sphere Gate, arm in arm like old friends in the harrowing heart of Perchorsk, in the very roots of the mountains. And finally he answered, 'What's that you ask? Did it have to do with you? But you sell yourself short, Harry. Why, you were all of it!'

They told you about me?'

'Your E-Branch, yes. I mean, not me specifically. They didn't tell me. But they did warn the new man in charge of our own ESPionage Group, who of course passed it on to me. Except, I'm not sure I should be repeating it to you.'

'Not even in a dream?'

'Dream?' Luchov shuddered, his subconscious mind briefly, however unwillingly, returning to the horror of what had gone before. He considered that for a moment... and in the next recoiled from it as if scalded. 'My God - but the whole monstrous business was a nightmare! In fact, and for all that you scared me witless, you were one of the few human things about it.'

'Human, yes,' said Harry, nodding. 'But that was then and this is now.'

Luchov disengaged his arm and moved a little apart, then turned and looked at the Necroscope - stared hard, curiously, even fearfully at him - as if to bring him into definition. But Harry's outline was fuzzy; he wouldn't come into focus; against the glare of the Gate where its dome came up through the disc, he was a silhouette whose rim was punctuated and perforated with brilliant lances of white light. They say that you... that you're...'

That I'm a vampire?'

'Are you?' Luchov lay still a minute in his bed and stopped breathing, waiting for the other's answer.

'Are you asking: do I kill men for their blood? Has my bite turned men into monsters? Have I myself been turned into a monster by a vampire's bite? Then I can only tell you... no.' His answer wasn't entirely a lie. Not yet.

Luchov breathed again, began tossing in his bed as before; and he and Harry continued their tour of inspection around the rim of the glaring sphere Gate. As they went so the Necroscope used a basic form of ESPionage, telepathy, to study the Projekt's secret core, its awesome nucleus where it was mirrored in the Russian scientist's subconscious mind. He saw it, that great spherical cavity carved in the mountain's solid rock, eaten out by unimaginable forces; and in Luchov's mind the enigmatic Gate was the gravity-defying maggot at its centre, coiled into a perfect ball of matterless white light, motionless, still glutted on energy absorbed in the first moments of its creation. The Gate, floating there like an alien chrysalis, with everything it contained waiting to break loose, to break out.

But Harry also saw that certain things had changed. Some things, anyway. The last time he was here (or rather there, physically there, at the core) it had been like this:

A spidery web of scaffolding had been built halfway up the curving wall at its perimeter, supporting a platform of timber flooring which surrounded the glaring Gate or portal floating on thin air at the cavern's centre. The effect had been to make the sphere look like the planet Saturn, with a ring-system composed of the encircling timber floor. The cavern was a little more than forty metres in diameter, and the central sphere a little less than quarter of that. There had been a gap of a few inches between the innermost timbers and the event horizon which was the sphere's 'skin'.

Backed up against the black, wormhole-riddled wall at the perimeter of the cavern, where the supporting scaffolding and stanchions were most firmly seated, three evenly-spaced, twin-mounted Katushev cannons had pointed their ugly muzzles almost point-blank at the blinding centre, ready at a moment's notice to discharge hot, sleeting steel at anything which might emerge from the glare. Closer to the centre, an electrified fence with a gate had been an additional precaution.

But precautions against what?

The answer to that was simple: against what appeared to be the denizens of hell.

As to what the Perchorsk Projekt had been originally, and how it mutated into what it was now:

When the USA started work on its SDI programme, the USSR thought to answer with Perchorsk. If America's aim was to knock out ninety per cent of incoming Russian missiles, then the Reds must discover a way to terminate - or otherwise render ineffective - one hundred per cent of missiles originating in the USA. The answer was to have been a screen of energy (several, in fact) which would enclose the Soviet heartland or large, vital parts of it under an impenetrable umbrella.

A team of top-rank scientists was quickly assembled, and in the depths of the Perchorsk ravine an amazing subterranean complex was blasted and hewn out of the mountain itself. A dam was constructed in the ravine; its turbines would supply sufficient hydroelectric power to drive the complex and supplement the energy of its atomic pile. Working furiously, the Soviet task-force completed the Perchorsk Projekt in short order and with nothing to spare in what had been a very tight schedule. Except that perhaps the schedule had been just a little too tight.

And then the device had been tested.

It was tested just once, and went disastrously wrong... mechanical failure... energies which should have fanned out and been dispersed across a great arc of sky were turned back in their tracks, deflected downwards into the core of the Projekt. Into the pile. And the Perchorsk Projekt ate its own heart!

It ate flesh and blood and bone, plastic and rock and steel, nuclear fuel and the atomic pile itself. For a second - maybe two seconds, three - it was ultimately voracious, so much so that finally it ate itself. And when it was over the shining sphere Gate hung in thin air where the pile had been, and the laboratories and levels all around had been reduced to so much magmass.

That was what Direktor Luchov had termed those monstrous regions in the vicinity of the central cavity and Gate, 'the magmass levels': made monstrous by what had occurred in them at the time of the blowback, when flesh and rock and whatever else had been gathered together and fused or moulded into this or that incredible, unthinkable shape like so much plasticine. Men, reversed so that their innards hung outwards, had become one with the rock walls. And closer to the centre, where they had been incinerated by the heat of the blowback, there they'd left their twisted, alien impressions scorched into the blackened rock. Pompeii, in a fashion, is similar to look upon; but there in the ashes and the lava, at least the figures are still recognizably human.

After that, it had soon become apparent just what the sphere was: the fact that the failed experiment had blown a hole through the wall of this universe into another, which lay parallel. And the sphere was the doorway, the portal... the Gate. But it was a weird kind of gate; anything going through it couldn't come back; likewise for anything that came through from the other side, from the parallel world of Sunside and Starside. And the trouble with Starside, of course, was that it was the source of vampirism, the 'home' of the Wamphyri.

Things had come through from the other side, which by the grace of God - or by chance, good fortune - had been destroyed before they could carry their lethal taint, the plague of vampirism, into the outside world. But such had been their horror that men just couldn't face up to them. Hence the Katushevs. Hence the flamethrowers everywhere evident, where in other secret establishments one might expect to find fire extinguishers. Hence the FEAR which had lived and breathed and occasionally held its breath in Perchorsk. The FEAR which lived here even now.

Even now, yes...

It was different, Harry observed, but not that different. For one thing the wooden floorboards of the Saturn's rings platform had been replaced by these steel plates, radiating outwards from the sphere like giant fish scales.

The Katushevs had gone, too, leaving the Gate surrounded at its own height by a system of ominous-looking sprinklers. And higher up the curving wall of the cavern, on platforms of their own, were the great glass carboys which contained the liquid agent for this sprinkler system: many gallons of highly corrosive acid. The steel plates of the rings sloped slightly downwards towards the centre, so that any spilled acid would run that way; below the sphere Gate, central on the magmass floor, a huge glass tank served as a catchment area for the acid when its work was done.

Its 'work', of course, would be to blind, incapacitate, and rapidly reduce to fumes anything that should come through from the other side; for after the last grotesque emergence - of a Wamphyri warrior creature - Viktor Luchov had known that exploding steel or a team of men with conventional flamethrowers just wouldn't be enough. Not for that sort of thing.

What had been enough was the failsafe system which was in use at that time, which poured thousands of gallons of explosive fuel into the core and then ignited it. Except it had also reduced the complex to a shell. Since when -

'Why didn't you get out then?' Harry inquired, when he'd seen everything he needed to see. 'Why didn't you just quit the place, close it up?'

'Oh, we did - briefly,' Luchov answered, blinking rapidly where he peered at his dream visitor in the glare of the Gate. 'We got out, sealed off the tunnels, filled all the horizontal ventilation and service shafts into the ravine with concrete, built a gigantic steel door onto the old entrance like a door on a bank vault. Why, we did as good a job on the Perchorsk Projekt as they'd later do on the reactor at Chernobyl! And then we had people sitting out there in the ravine with their sensors, listening to it ... until we realized that we just couldn't stand the silence!'

Harry knew what he meant. The horror at Chernobyl couldn't reactivate itself; it wasn't likely to become sentient. But if sentient minds could plug the holes at Perchorsk, others - however alien - might always unplug them.

'We had to know, to be able to see for ourselves, that all was well down here,' Luchov continued. 'At least until we could deal with it on a more permanent basis.'

'Oh?' Harry was keenly interested. 'Deal with it permanently? Will you explain?'

And Luchov might have done just that, except Harry had allowed himself to become just a fraction too intense, too real. And suddenly the Projekt Direktor had known that this was more than any ordinary dream.

Starting awake in his austere, cell-like room, the Russian jerked upright in his bed and saw Harry sitting there, staring at him with eyes like clots of fluorescent blood in the room's darkness. Then, remembering his dream, and panting his shock where he pressed himself to the bare steel wall, Luchov gasped, 'Harry Keogh! It is you! You... you liar!'

Again Harry knew what he meant. But he shook his head. 'I told you no lie, Viktor. I haven't killed men for their blood, I've created no vampires, and I wasn't myself infected that way.'

'That's as may be,' the other gasped, 'but you are a vampire!'

Harry smiled, however terribly. 'Look at me,' he said, his voice very soft, almost warm, even reasonable. 'I mean, I can hardly deny it, can I?' And he leaned himself a little closer to Luchov.

The Russian was as Harry remembered him; his skin might be a shade more sallow, his eyes more feverish, but basically he was the same man. Small and thin, he was badly scarred and the hair was absent from the left half of his face and yellow-veined skull. But however vulnerable Luchov might seem, Harry knew that in fact he was a survivor. He had survived the awful accident which created the Gate, survived all of the Things which subsequently came through it, even survived the final holocaust. Yes, survived everything. So far, anyway.

Luchov blanched under the Necroscope's scrutiny and panted that much faster. He prayed that the steel wall would absorb him safely within itself, maybe to expel him in the cell next door, away from this... man? For Luchov had faced a vampire before, and even the thought of it was terrifying! Finally he forced out words. 'Why are you here?'

Harry's gaze was unwavering. He watched the yellow veins pulsing rapidly under the scar-tissue skin of Luchov's seared skull, and answered, 'Oh, you know why well enough, Viktor. I'm here because of what E-Branch told you or caused you to be told: that I'm obliged to abandon this world, and in order to do so must use the Perchorsk Gate. But no big deal. Why, I should have thought you'd all be glad to see the last of me!'

'Oh, we would! We would!' Luchov eagerly agreed, nodding until droplets of sweat flew. 'It's just that... that...'

Harry inclined his head a little on one side and smiled his awful smile again. 'Go on.'

But Luchov had already said too much. 'If what you say is true,' he babbled, trying to change the subject, 'that as yet you've... harmed no one ... I mean...'

'Are you asking me not to harm you?' Harry deliberately yawned, politely hiding the indelicate gape behind his hand - but not before he'd let the Russian glimpse the length and serrated edges of his teeth, and not without displaying the hand's talons. 'What, for the sake of my reputation? Every esper in Europe and possibly even further afield baying for my blood, but I have to be a good boy? Fair's fair, Viktor. Now, why don't you just tell me what E-Branch told your lot, and what they've asked you to do? Oh yes, and what measure - what permanent solution - there could possibly be to this Frankenstein monster you've created here at Perchorsk?'

'But I can't... daren't tell you any of those things,' Luchov whined, cringing against the steel wall.

'So despite all you've been through, you're still a true, brainwashed son of Mother Russia, eh?' Harry grimaced and gave a mocking snort.

'No.' Luchov shook his head. 'Just a man, a member of the human race.'

'But one who believes everything people tell him, right?'

'What my eyes tell me, certainly.'

The Necroscope's patience was at an end. He leaned closer still, grabbed Luchov's wrist in a steel claw and hissed, 'You argue well, Viktor. Perhaps you really should have been one of the Wamphyri!'

And at last the Projekt Direktor could see his worst nightmare taking shape before his eyes, the metamorphosis of a man into a potential plague, and knew that he might all too easily become the next carrier. But he still had a card left to play. 'You... you defy every scientific principle,' he babbled. 'You come and go in that weird way of yours. But did you think I had forgotten? Did you think I wouldn't remember and take precautions? Better go now, Harry, before they burst in through that door there and burn you to a crisp!'

'What?' Harry let go of him, jerked himself back away from him.

Luchov snatched back the covers of his bed and showed the Necroscope the button attached to the steel frame. The button which he had pressed - how long ago? ¨C and whose tiny red light was flashing even now. And Harry knew that however unwittingly, still he'd been betrayed by his own vampire.

For this was a failure of his dark side. The Thing within him had wanted to be seen, to take ascendancy, to do this thing its own way and frighten the answers out of Luchov. Yes, and then possibly to kill him! If Harry had fought it down, then he might simply have plucked the answers right out of the scientist's mind. But too late for that now.

Not too late to fight back, however, and drive the hidden Thing to ground, beat it back into subservience. He did so, and Luchov saw that he was just a man again. Sobbing, the Russian said, 'I thought ... I thought... that you would kill me!'

'Not me,' Harry answered, as running footsteps sounded from outside. 'Not me - it! And yes, it just might have killed you. But damn you, you trusted me once, Viktor. And did I let you down? All right, so the flesh-and-blood me has changed; but the real me, I'm still the same.'

'But it's different now, Harry,' Luchov answered, suddenly aware that he'd averted... whatever. 'Surely you can see that? I'm not doing anything for myself any more. Not even for "Mother Russia". It's for the human race -for all of us.'

They were banging on the door now, voices shouting.

'Listen.' Harry's face was as earnest and as human as the Russian had ever seen it; or it would be, but for those hellish eyes. 'By now E-Branch - and your Russian organization, too, if they're worth their salt - must know I only want out. So - why can't - they - just - let - me ¨Cgo!'

Shots sounded from the corridor, ten or more in rapid succession, hammer blows of hot lead that slammed into the lock on the steel-panelled door and shattered its works to scrap metal. 'But... are you telling me you don't know?' Luchov saw only Harry now, only the man. 'Are you saying you don't understand?'

'Maybe I do,' Harry answered, 'I'm not sure. But right now you're the only one who can confirm it.'

And so Luchov confirmed it. 'But they're not worried about you going, Harry,' he said, as the door was slammed back on its hinges and light flooded in. They're only worried that one day you might come back, and about what you might try to bring with you!'

Scared men crowded the doorway; one cradled a flamethrower, its flickering muzzle pointing directly at Luchov. 'Don't!' the Direktor screamed, ramming himself into the corner and covering his face with frail, fluttering hands. 'For Christ's sake, don't! He's gone! He's gone!'

They stood there in the doorway, smokily silhouetted in cordite stench, looking round the stark cubicle. And finally one of them asked: 'Who has gone, Direktor?'

And another said, 'Has the Direktor been... dreaming?'

Luchov collapsed on his bed, sobbing. Oh, how he wished he'd only been dreaming. But no, he hadn't. Not all of it, anyway. For he could still feel the pressure on his wrist where the Necroscope had gripped him, and he could still feel those terrible eyes burning on his face and in his mind.

Oh, yes, Harry Keogh had been here, and pretty soon he'd be back. But the Direktor also knew that unless he was hugely mistaken, Harry had learned only part of what he came to learn. The next time he came, the rest of it would be waiting for him.

But the next time could be any time as of right now!

'Switch it on!' he gasped.

'Eh?' A scientist pushed hastily, unceremoniously by the rest and squeezed himself into the gap beside Luchov's bed. 'The disc? Did you say we're to switch it on?'

'Yes.' Luchov grasped his arm. 'And do it now, Dmitri. Do it right now!' Then Luchov lay back gasping and clutched at his throat. 'I can't breathe. I can't... breathe.'

'Out!' Dmitri Kolchov ordered at once, with a wave of his arm. 'Out, all of you. Let's have some air in here.'

But as the men filed out: 'Wait!' Luchov held out a claw-like hand after them. 'You, with the flamethrower. Wait right outside. And you, with the shotgun. Is it loaded? Silver shot?'

'Of course, Direktor.' The man looked puzzled. What use to have it if it wasn't loaded?

'And is there a grenadier with you, with grenades?' Luchov was quieter now, steadier.

'Yes, Direktor,' came the answer from outside.

Luchov nodded and his Adam's apple wobbled a little as he gulped down air. 'Then you three - all of you - wait for me outside. And from now on don't let me out of your sight.' He swung his legs wearily to the floor, then noticed Dmitri Kolchov standing there, staring at him.

'Direktor, I - ' Kolchov started to speak.

'Now!' Luchov screamed at him. 'Man, are you fucking deaf? Didn't you hear me? I said switch on the disc right now. Then report to the Duty Room and get me Moscow on the hotline.'

'Moscow?' Pallid now and shrinking a little, Kolchov backed out of the small room.

'Gorbachev,' Luchov rasped. 'Gorbachev and none other. For there's no one else who can order what comes next!'

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